Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Leg Yields. Or, Consistency Is Key

On my last post, Muriel asked me a question about leg yield aids. Aids are such a pain in the butt. Sometimes literally... Ha!

Personally, I love leg yields. In a leg yield, you're asking the horse to move sideways and forward away from the direction of the bend. It's a great way to get the horse's inside hind leg moving and get the horse to push into the outside rein. When I practice leg yields I like to release the inside rein completely to see if I can still maintain the bend and outside rein contact with just my seat and leg. It's a fun little test of the aids. My aids for the leg yield are as follows: Say we're tracking right (right bend) and want to make a leg yield to the left. I drop my right seat bone into the horse and apply my right leg at the girth. My left seat bone and leg stay off, allowing the horse to move sideways. If the hind end starts to lag, I move my right leg back slightly and push in rhythm with the inside hind to say "move your butt!" If the horse falls onto his outside shoulder or quickens his pace I half halt on the outside rein.

As I was thinking of my aids for different movements to write the above paragraph, I thought to myself "That's really confusing. Those are almost exactly the same aids I would use to make a circle tracking right, ask for right lead canter or half-pass right. How the heck does my horse know the difference?"

There are so many subtleties in the aids. Pressure from my seat bones says "bend this direction". Pressure from my leg says "move this hind leg". The rest of my body makes a hundred fine adjustments to regulate and clarify what my seat and leg are asking for.

So, if I wanted to make a circle tracking right, I would weight my right seat bone. My right leg would activate the horse's inside hind leg (if needed) and my left leg would block the horse from travelling sideways. To pick up the right lead canter, I would weight my right seat bone. My right leg would activate the inside hind leg and I would shift my weight ever so slightly back to signal the upward transition. My left leg again blocks sideways movement. For a half-pass right, my right seat bone gets weighted to ask for the right bend and my right leg activates the inside hind, but this time my left leg is applied just behind the girth to push the horse sideways into the bend.

Now, those are just my aids. I've learned through the years that many people have different aids for those movements. I don't think there's really a right or wrong. It's really about consistency and results. I'm not one of those people who says "Oh no, you can't do it like that! So and So who wrote a book on classical horsemanship says to do it this way so therefore that is The Only Way to do it ever!" Please... realistically, you could teach a horse to do a leg yield every time you tapped the saddle pommel three times. It would look a little weird in a dressage test, but is it wrong? Well, I'd actually have to check the rule book to see if it's a violation to tap the saddle in a test, but outside of showing I wouldn't call it wrong. Silly, perhaps, but not necessarily wrong.

I got a little side tracked there. My point is: If you're consistent and are getting good results, keep doing what you're doing. If not, then it's time to try something else. The aids I described are what I have learned and adapted over many years, many trainers and many horses. They're an amalgamation of what has worked for me.

That's not to say that I don't enjoy reading books or talking about theory and classical horsemanship. I love theory, it's just about my favorite thing ever. I also believe it gives the rider a great foundation to work from. But, I also know that nothing in horsemanship is ever set in stone. You have to take the theory and use it, play with it, and adapt it to your horse and your riding. Have fun with it.


  1. Great job explaining how you use aids. I do leg yields the same way. You get bonus points for using one of my favorite words, amalgamation! :)

  2. This stuff is hard to describe - nice job! I also use my eyes, looking out in the direction of travel, and I also try to feel as if I'm "lifting" up and out with my whole body - more of an energy/focus thing than an aid I guess.

  3. Love it!! I have argued again and again that the horse will respond to almost whatever aid you want to give to create a movement. Yes, all the technicalities of what's correct can certain get the horse to go where you want him to, but ultimately the aid you choose is yours.

    A good example is the canter. Many dressage experts insist that the horse must be positioned just so, balanced just so, etc. to pick up the canter. I have always maintained that regardless of his balance or "on the bitness" etc. if I give my horse the aid to canter, he needs to canter. Out in the wild the horse certainly doesn't think, "Gee am I balanced and round?" before he canters off on his own.

    OK, I won't go on, but your post makes a lot of good usual.

  4. Thanks so much for your reply. But I will print your post out and read it with little drawing. The leg yield makes sense.
    The canter lead is different for me. As we weigh the outside seat bone.
    As a fun game, hold a heavy suitcase in your right hand and "canter" on the right lead, then put the heavy suitcase in the left hand and try again to canter right lead. Obviously without a horse ^-^

    I was asking about leg-yield because it is a move I have completly dismissed for a while because Mr Philippe Karl argues it does not make sense. In his book, he will then demonstrate that the horse spine is NOT flexible under the rider saddle. Therefore our legs can only keep the hips of the horse inline with the horse's shoulder.

    Mr Karl's book is well worth the money for his challenging ideas, all backed up with scientific data. Very interesting.

    BUT as you conclude your post, I am pretty open-minded because I am between two disciplines a lot diverse, I know that in horsemanship there is lots of flexibility.

    Thnak again. I am going to "study" your aids ^-^

  5. Great post. I enjoyed and learned from reading about your aids. I agree that aids can vary and still be correct, but they have to work in harmony with the horse. Sometimes people propose things that don't.
    Anyway, I struggle with leg yield, so appreciated reading the detail of your approach. Makes sense. Different people put the emphasis a little differently, and each time I read the aids it helps.


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